Defenses win championships, yet when your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, offense leads the way.
Inside linebacker was once again placed under the spotlight throughout the offseason, but have the Green Bay Packers made enough moves to fix an offense that finished No. 25 in passing?
It was hard to pinpoint one cause of the Packers’ uncharacteristic struggles on offense last season, in reality there were many. From Jordy Nelson‘s season-ending injury to Eddie Lacy‘s weight issues and a plethora of injuries to the offensive line, the unit hit a roadblock ahead of the Week 7 bye, and its one they never truly recovered from.
Davante Adams‘ rhythm in route-running was off, and this was a major factor in a wild number of drops and a disconnect between the quarterback and receiver. Randall Cobb struggled to pick up the slack, unable to shake coverage consistently.
If you could have scripted a nightmare season for Rodgers’ supporting cast last July, it would have followed a similar track to what we witnessed in 2015.
With Nelson returning to health and Lacy in better shape, will it all once again be rosy on offense? The Packers will have to hope so. Yet if Nelson doesn’t return to 100 percent — which is very much in play the wrong side of 30 returning from a serious knee injury — and Lacy doesn’t hit the heights of his first two seasons in the league, will the horror show of 2015 rear its ugly head once more?
If so, a series of missed opportunities could be to blame.
Following the heartbreaking season-ender in the divisional round against the Arizona Cardinals, we were left to ponder which areas the Packers’ offense needed to get stronger at during the offseason.
One area was better depth to the offensive line. Behind a solid starting quintet, the Packers paid the price for a lack of adequate cover at the tackle positions. Don Barclay was overpowered every time he took to the field, allowing a team-high nine sacks and 33 pressures despite only playing on 32.6 percent of offensive snaps, per Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The Packers addressed this concern by trading up for tackle Jason Spriggs in the second round and doubling down at the position with sixth-rounder Kyle Murphy.
Outside of more depth required along the offensive line, a glaring need for Green Bay was at tight end. Since losing Jermichael Finley to a career-ending neck injury in 2013, the Packers have lacked a move tight end who can attack the middle of the field and create mismatches against defenders.
It was commonly known to be a weak draft class at the position with the exception of a few early-round names, but there were opportunities for the Packers to find their man in free agency.
Top of the tree sat Ladarius Green, a 6-foot-6 target with tremendous athleticism and receiving ability. Green has long sat in the shadow of Chargers legend Antonio Gates, but now has the opportunity to flourish in the Steelers’ offense, arguably the league’s best unit.
Thompson is often cautious to overpay in free agency, but Green’s contract is worth a modest $5 million per year, ranking 16th in the NFL among tight end salaries. His cap hit never exceeds $6.2 million, which pales in comparison to the excess of $10 million the likes of Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce will soon account for. The Steelers aren’t renowned for big free agency splashes, but they were happy to make an exception to the rule.
Instead the Packers settled for Jared Cook on a one-year, $2.75 million contract. Cook has the combination of size, speed and athleticism the offense needs at the position, but the former Los Angeles Ram has underachieved throughout his career and frustrated quarterbacks with frequent drops. As a replacement for Andrew Quarless this move makes sense, but will the Packers rue not being a little more aggressive?
Even with Cook on board, it was surprising to see the Packers snub the position in the draft. Hunter Henry was long gone before they hit the clock on day two, but Thompson had the opportunity to snag arguably the most rounded tight end in the class in Nick Vannett, who was instead scooped up by Seattle seven picks later.
If Vannett in the third round was too rich for the Packers’ liking, they could have grabbed one of the best pass-catching tight ends of the class in Jerell Adams, who was available for 183 picks before landing with the Giants. Ben Braunecker may have been worth a late-round flier due to his high upside, instead falling to the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
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Fifth-round pass catcher Trevor Davis will give the Packers’ receiving group an injection of speed it sorely lacked last term, but the day three selection is no guarantee to make the roster. Davis will compete with third-year wideouts Adams, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis as well as second-year Ty Montgomery.
If there’s one area you can’t be critical of Thompson, it’s when drafting receivers. His hits easily outweigh his misses, although the pessimistic might point to the decision to select Adams in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft when Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry were still on the board.
It’s been discussed countless times how a change-of-pace style running back could add another dimension to the Packers’ offense. After Lacy’s issues last season paired with James Starks‘ inability to hang onto the football, now more than ever felt like the perfect time to add a speedy bit-part back to turn on the afterburners.
Illinois’ Josh Ferguson fit the bill. He is far from a bell-cow back who can take the ball 20 times a game, but his combination of speed and pass-catching ability would have made him a useful chess piece for Mike McCarthy to move around. Ferguson signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent.
With Nelson’s return to health, a rejuvenated Lacy and a cleaner bill of health along the offensive line, the Packers may well return to the heights of 2014 offensively. Yet after a season in which the defense did enough to win a championship as the offense uncharacteristically sputtered, it’s somewhat strange more emphasis wasn’t placed on surrounding Rodgers with more talent.
The Packers will rightfully be among the favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy once again in 2016. Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, and when surrounded with the right pieces can make the offense almost impossible to defend. Have the Packers done enough this offseason to ensure his supporting cast is as good as it could be?
When the dust settles on the 2016 season, we might be reflecting on another host of missed opportunities.